“Now, the government has embarked on an ambitious plan to make Beijing the center of a new supercity of 130 million people.”

The New York Times reports on the proposed Jing-Jin-Ji.  It’s population of six times the size of New York City will cover an area the size of Kansas.

imageChina has been pushing an aggressive agenda of massing its people into new urban configurations.  But as it pushes its primarily rural peasant population to move into cities, it’s created upheaval.


Move, change, upheaval.  Is this unique?  Not entirely.  This brings to mind America’s urban story.  Our cities grew as 19th and early 20th century European immigrants arrived.  African-Americans moved northward to Chicago and Detroit when their factory workers went off to 20th century world wars.  Since the late 20th century gentrification has been changing the face of many neighborhoods.  Resulting in increasing diversity in the suburbs.

But unique to China is the formal, controlled and massive way it’s taking place.

Will Chinese economic-social goals be achieved in this forced-march?  Or will the cost to its humanity outweigh benefits to China’s business?


I posted a couple weeks ago about Susan Herberg’s article in a recent St Louis American about her journey away from white privilege.

The next day Gail pointed out that the St Louis Business Journal’s recent issue featuring millennials also dealt with privilege.

The millennial generation is supposed to operate certain ways as far as work style preferences, values, lifestyles, etc.  And, of course, the business world is finding ways to work millennials into its business plans.

Gail sees one problem about all this interest.  There is one large population of young adults not so concerned about flexible hours, a dedicated mentor, work from home, etc.  They just want a job.

There are a lot of American young adults across St Louis, Detroit, Chicago, Midwestern small towns, immigrant neighborhoods who want a job but are not finding one.

Gym reimbursement?

One evening during all the media attention on the Greek financial crisis I listened to Kai Ryssdal on KWMU reporting for Marketplace from Athens.  People he interviewed?  not happy.  But one man seemed less concerned about being unhappy and more concerned about having a job.  The jobless rate of young adults in Greece is 53.2%.

We are happy in America that our jobless rate is not as bad.

But if you have been trying to, and yet can’t find a job, it’s bad.

This morning I read this article by Susan Herberg, a St Louisan, who is “not going to shut up”.

Susan wrote in this week’s issue of the St Louis American of the St Louis Language Immersion School her daughter attends.  A leadership transition is now taking place at the SLLIS.  Susan takes strong exception with where the school is headed.

What caught my attention in her article:

  • a journey away from white privilege that has brought her from comfortable suburb to the rich diversity of life in St Louis’ Tower Grove East neighborhood. I know where that is, just west of Benton Park West, home of the Urban Mission Center.  And where Gail and I are headed in a few weeks (yes! it really is happening; July 27 is the move date).
  • SLLIS brings “students of all backgrounds together in a public charter school … using the innovative inquiry-based teaching curriculum of the International Baccalaureate program”.  Our daughter Kirsten also had the IB experience, a challenging and rich one.
  • “two old white guys .. and now my prejudice is showing.  I have had it with old white guys…”  Susan, is this just a prejudicial ranting?  or is there more to this than your article says?  I know you want Rhonda Broussard “our transformative, inspirational leader back”.  You write “if you see her, tell her she is an amazing person for bringing this school to life.”  Now I want to know more about what is happening at the SLLIS.

A neighbor-to-be.  An educational approach I believe is excellent.  And two old white guys.  Moving this month into the city has me looking.


We pulled up into the Temple Corps parking lot at 3:07 PM today.  We crossed the street.  Sara greeted us at the gate and we walked along the side of the house, past Temple Gardens, opened the wooden gate.  We had arrived for Temple Houses’ Memorial Day BBQ.

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Darren had wheeled the new Weber from his place on Texas Street. Chicken legs and his own Buffalo wings recipe.  Hot dogs.  We all pitched in with salads, fresh fruit, spoonbread.  Plenty to eat.

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Alex and Alyson from Royal Oak MI were visiting this weekend, checking out Temple Houses.  John Stewart was back in town from Colorado to attend a conference; it was good to see him again.  And just about all of the regular TH community were able to come share table fellowship under the shade of the apple tree which has been miraculously restored to health.

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Gail wanted to show Kirsten the house we will soon move into. I needed to come along to open the key lock box.  We walked east a block to 2708 Arsenal.  It’s still under construction but now the shape of the apartment is clear.  Soon we will live on Arsenal Street.

Back under the apple tree it felt good.  Warm weather zephyrs.  Sitting with these young adults who we feel are beginning to form genuine community.  It’s not an immediate, sure thing.  Community cannot be commanded.  But we are beginning to experience it, to sense the connections and relationships, and even some understanding of life together in service to the world God so loves.  The label we choose to use is missional community.  Labels can’t be avoided.  We’ve avoided ‘incarnational ministry’.  We prefer community in mission, life together in service.

I began to feel drowsy.  I ate too much today.  Sitting together, sharing food.  We were pretty content.  Be content with what you have.  That was my earliest remembrance of a scripture recitation.   A Nathan’s hot dog.  Watermelon.  A dab of potato salad.  Together.

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We are headed west on a Missouri state road this Sunday morning, headed into Carthage to conduct worship.

We just passed through a town here out in the beautiful green pastures, herds of cattle quiet.  Perhaps even worshipping (so Gail suggested).

But the town which will remain nameless was grim.  Crumbling ramshackle houses and former stores.  It all reminded me of Detroit.  Famous Detroit, for its fall from vibrant density to decriptitude.  In Detroit you see the outlines of what once was.  Abandoned structures, empty city blocks, streets now too quiet.

This grim Missouri town we passed through minutes ago was never a vital urban center.   But it was a center for its rural area of the Show Me State.  Now it is a reminder of the way of cities, of towns, of this Urban Millennium in which all things urban are being challenged and reordered.

We just arrived in Carthage.

April 22 2015 021Gail and I attend Sunday morning worship at The Salvation Army on 26th Street in East St Louis IL those Sundays we are home in St Louis.  Actually Kirkwood, as we await moving to what will be our home in St Louis city.  That’s another story.  Here’s my story about two Bibles of East St Louis.

A few weeks ago we crossed the Mississippi and joined a very small group for worship.  Several were children.  We got talking about the Bible, looking up passages for our lesson, a free unstructured sort of Bible study.  One girl mentioned that she didn’t have a Bible.  Her name is Maya.  I remembered this.

The next morning I went to the table in my office and took the new Bible I had just received for joining a year-long Salvation Army reading plan.  I picked it up and put it back in its protective sleeve.  A few days later I handed it to my Corps Officer, Lieutenant AJ Zachery.  He delivered it to Maya.

Last week Gail and I were back at East St Louis Corps.  We met with a group of children to prepare them to become Junior Soldiers, entry level for young people into Salvation Army life and service.  That evening Maya was there learning along with the others.

I was standing in the chapel.  Maya walked over and stood in front of me, looking off to the side.  She seemed to be thinking.  ‘Are you the one who gave me a Bible?’  Yes, that was me.  Maya was silent for a few seconds, looking like she was pondering this.

‘Thank you.’  And then she walked off to join the others who were busy being children.  Playing, chattering, teasing each other, asking us all kinds of questions.April 22 2015 032

That’s the first Bible of East St Louis.  Here’s the second.

The day after Maya thanked me I attended an early morning committee meeting of the St Louis Advisory Board.  Advisory Boards, well, advise The Salvation Army. St Louis has an exceptional Board.

Someone on the committee shared a story about a man they know, a friend, who told them that as a young person living in East St Louis he was given a Bible by a Salvation Army Officer, name now forgotten.   That was in 1957.  He still has that Bible.  That simple act of being given a Bible made an impact in his life.  The Bible.

I want to connect these two stories.  In them I believe there is some kind of meaning.

The Tuft of Flowers is a poem by Robert Frost.  He describes one morning coming to a freshly mown field to work.  He discovers that the mower, now gone, left “a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook”:

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,                                                                                                       By leaving them to flourish, not for us,                                                                                                                Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him,                                                                                                     But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

Alone in the field, he no longer feels alone.  The flowers left by the mower has created a bond.

“Men work together,” I told him from the heart,                                                                                      “Whether they work together or apart.”

Many of us who work in urban places with very hard conditions, where life is cut down too early, too often … the Bible has meaning, impact.  It especially has impact when it is used as a message, a gift, that someone notices me.

From Psalm 103:

As for mortals, their days are like grass;                                                                                                           they flourish like a flower of the field;                                                                                                                   for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,                                                                                                          and its place knows it no more.

But the steadfast love of the Lord                                                                                                                             is from everlasting to everlasting                                                                                                                            on those who fear him,                                                                                                                                          and his righteousness to children’s children,                                                                                                         to those who keep his covenant                                                                                                                            and remember to do his commandments.



We gather this Sunday afternoon in Forest Park for Earth Day.  
Forest Park shares with New York City’s Central Park the distinction of being the largest urban park in America.  It is reason to be proud as a St Louisan.  It speaks of our St Louis forbears’ foresight.  They were aware of the need for urban density to have space and place.  To put it rather imprecisely, urban people need places like this.  

You would think that by virtue of the close quarters and many social structures city dwellers would experience rich, close relationships.  But it often is not so.  It is a paradox that urban density leads to people being distant from each other. A sense of isolation, of alienation, even suspicion and hostility.  Factions form and find expression in social protest against injustice.  The existence of violence and isolation.  These dark aspects are part of our urban millennium.
Earth Day gives us pause to reflect on the integrating and interdependent nature of global life.  Today we are more aware than ever of our interdependence.  We are attempting to integrate our human existence with life on this earth.  
But does this take place in our cities?  How can we participate in the systems of and the system of a city?  And how then does our urban life become part of the global life of humanity, and of the globe itself?
Official Catholic social teaching calls for Christians to be stewards of the earth. So, to apply this to the system of a city calls for urban stewardship.  If Christians are called to be responsible for creation, and CST understands humans central to creation, then how does this apply to the city?
Is the creation we name ‘city’ existing in a responsible way on the earth?  Are our cities earth-friendly?  Human-friendly?
The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann presents further considerations for our understanding in an ethic of the earth.  Integration and interdependence are now becoming the focus of sciences as they search for answers to global warming and other environmental challenges.  The Gaia theory of earth, and I don’t accept it in its mystical or god sense, gives science a new perspective in bringing wholeness.  Wesleyan-Salvation Army people can look at it as an expansion of holiness, of full salvation. 
What would an integrated and interdependent life and ministry look like in our cities?  Is this why there is a focus on community?
And if so, then how does this impact the urban mission?  How does it direct our urban ministry?
Biblically and theologically it may be part of the apokatastasis panton.  If it has been God’s “good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:9-10), then integrating and interdependent life has great implications for what God is doing in all places, including in the city.
To gather is to integrate and acknowledge interdependency.  On God’s terms, not on the terms of “the course of this world … the ruler of the power of the air … the desires of flesh and senses” for to do so leads us to become “children of wrath” (Eph 2:1-3).  
Gathering is an agrarian image.  It brings to mind scriptural images too; the Final Day.  And our Temple Gardens?
Integration represents a return from scientific compartmentalization and specialization.  The geosciences pull together the discoveries of science to now investigate their interdependent and integrated beauty. 
An Earth Day perspective pulls together that which has been dissected and isolated for study and understanding.  In this world, in our cities.  This is apokatastasis panton.

Last Sunday there were eight of us together for dinner at a family restaurant near St Louis.  I sat across the table from Bill (I’ll call him).  I had a cheeseburger.  Bill, a patty melt.  We both had fries.  And Bill told me his story.

He was a mess before he figured how to get his act together through a combination of approaches that included Narcotics Anonymous.  And volunteering at the Salvation Army corps in his town, doing a good job in its food pantry.  Keeping busy is the main thing for Bill who knows keeping busy makes it hard to get back into trouble.

One day the Lieutenant asked Bill if he attended church.  No.  Come back here this Sunday says the Lieutenant.  Bill did and three years later he’s a regular member of the group that gathers to worship on Sunday at the Salvation Army.

Bill told me that he has two mentors at the Salvation Army.  They have helped him grow as a person, to experience more of the full life human beings were meant for.  All part of getting his act together, to keep out of trouble. 4 13 2015 003

Recently, Bill decided to become a Soldier in The Salvation Army.  There are a lot of promises a Soldier makes including abstaining from the use of “alcoholic drink, tobacco, the non-medical use of addictive drugs, gambling, pornography, the occult and all else that could enslave the body or spirit.”

Bill talked about the special ability he has.  A gift to help people who are in a really bad way.  Like Rachel (I’ll call her) who lives without an address, who at times has maggots in her scalp, who nobody in town can do a thing with.

But Rachel listens to Bill.

It may have something to do with Bill’s face which has an expression of pleasant accepting neutrality, and his manner, which communicates to people that here is a person who has undergone a very hard time for a long time, who has come through.  Bill says it has something to do with grace and mercy and love which in some way he has been able to reach out and touch.  He says that he was a bad person for many years, but that he knows he’s not anymore.  Rachel listens to Bill.

Bill lives on $700 a month, and he also receives some assistance due to his situation.  Keeping busy keeps Bill of out trouble.  And Rachel listens to him.  And it helps her in small ways to also keep out of trouble.

The road back home after Sunday dinner with Bill

The road back home after Sunday dinner with Bill

Do people tend to live in neighborhoods with those like themselves?


But we may not realize that this tendency creates other dynamics. For instance, the economic segregation of Americans.

The Washington Post reports on a new study from researchers at the University of Toronto showing that the wealthy increasingly “isolate and wall themselves off from the less well-to-do’ in America’s cities.  Which cities are at the top of this self isolation-by-income category?

The least economically segregated cities?

Here is the full article by Emily Badger on the work of Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander.

Florida and Mellander note one particular result of this urban economic segregation –

While there have always been affluent neighborhoods, gated enclaves, and fabled bastions of wealth like Newport, East Hampton, Palm Beach, Beverly Hills, and Grosse Pointe, the people who cut the lawns, cooked and served the meals, and fixed the plumbing in their big houses used to live nearby—close enough to vote for the same councilors, judges, aldermen, and members of the board of education. That is less and less the case today.

There is a new distance being created between urban dwellers in our largest cities.  Not only physical but in the socio-political worlds.  It means less sharing.  It must also certainly mean a lessened sense of a common good.

What we are now seeing more and more in the Urban Millennium are urban dwellers “experiencing the very same city in very different ways.”

Tonight I’m reading the summary placed online this week by the Equal Justice Initiative of its report Lynching in America:  Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.Lynching in America

It reports on the ongoing project of tallying up “terror lynchings” (nearing 4,000) which took place in the twelve most active lynching states in America (1877-1950) and the effects this social phenomenon has had on America’s way with African Americans.

What I think of is the specific effect it has had on how African Americans relate to those of us who are not African American.

Sometimes it is expressed by ‘yes, sir’.

In many places and certainly in younger generations it’s a fading practice, perhaps one that has been gone for a few decades.  But in some places and especially with those of a certain age with close roots in the South it has persisted.  It can make a person uneasy, feel uncomfortable.  It doesn’t feel right.  It seems to challenge the notion that all men are created equal.  And at times it has defined relationships in a way that runs contrary to what I believe, what I want them to be.

But the Equal Justice Initiative Lynching In America report makes clear why it is a social practice not so easily discarded.

In 1940, Jesse Thornton was lynched in Luverne, Alabama, for referring to a white police
officer by his name without the title of ‘mister’.

Socio-cultural memory persists in keeping ‘yes, sir’ as part of the African American way to relate to white Americans.  This kind of memory lasts for a long time.


This memory with its many other nuances creates the backdrop for a saying Dr. William Bentley of the National Black Evangelical Association was fond of repeating.  I recall it going something like this –

If you’re white, you’re alright.  Yellow, you’re mellow.  Brown, stick around.

Black?  jump back!

Even when ‘yes, sir’ isn’t spoken, it isn’t necessarily absent.  There are silent ‘yes, sirs’ yet present in interactions, relationships.  Even friendships.

Care in navigating interracial relationships means being careful.  Ready to jump back.  Stay close to the door.  Mistrust, suspicion, guardedness, uncertainty often come with it.

This means that I have a responsibility, as a non-African American person. To acknowledge a long season of wrongs and power structures.  To memorialize it in ways such as Equal Justice Initiative plans to place markers where lynchings took place.  To disavow and disassemble the apparatus built on all of that.

Yes, sir.


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